LOST IN THE fact that

Steve Downie

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had been called up after being suspended for 20 games is the fact that he is a 20-year-old who was playing his first NHL game.

But it wasn't lost on him or his family.

"I got a lot of phone calls when everyone heard that I got called up," the Flyers forward said about his NHL debut Wednesday at Minnesota. "It was a very exciting time for me and my family. It was exciting, really exciting. I was nervous. It was what I worked for my whole life."

On Friday night in Denver, Downie played in his second game. He swears he hasn't thought about everything it has taken to get to the Flyers or how long it will take him to win a regular spot.

Yesterday, Downie was sent back to the Phantoms to get more playing time. Ryan Potulny was called up.

But for Downie, it was a huge step.

"I didn't think about the future. I was just real happy to get my first game in," Downie said. "I was more focused on the game and trying to do the right things out there."

The right things from Downie will include staying out of trouble while continuing to play the kind of game that has the Flyers excited about his future.

He is a player with skills who has had an offensive impact on his team, including the two Junior World Championships he won playing for Team Canada.

But it is his grit that gets the most attention, and playing that way, under control, has been the issue.

Downie was suspended for 20 games after crushing Ottawa's Dean McAmmond in the head during the preseason. The Flyers felt that the play was undisciplined, but they think he is worth taking a chance on.

But for now, Downie is still a kid trying to find an NHL career.

"I don't even think I've thought about [making the NHL] yet," Downie said. "I'm just focused on doing the little things right. Playing my game and working hard."

Too close to think about it

The NHL wanted parity and that's what it has going into the middle of December. The Flyers are in third place in the Atlantic Division with 32 points.

They have held the division lead, lost it, regained it and lost it again and in that time, the Devils have gone from the bottom of the pile to the top, where they now stand, even after a loss last night to the Rangers ended a nine-game win streak. New Jersey has 35 points.

In the conference, the difference between No. 1 Ottawa and No. 10 Toronto is nine points. The Senators sprinted out early and hold a six-point cushion in their division, but after that, from second-place Carolina (35) through the Maple Leafs (30), it's a five-point spread.

It's the same in the Western Conference, where Detroit (44 points) has the most comfortable lead, but the difference between second-place Vancouver (35) and 11th-place Chicago (30) is five points.

There are only nine teams with fewer than 30 points and only two Washington (22) and Los Angeles (24), who now are longshots to make the playoffs.

Count no one else out just yet.

Captain Dowd

A lot has been written about the number of players on the Flyers who were captains on other teams. Here's one who escaped the list:

Jim Dowd

.

Dowd was one of the original members of the Minnesota Wild when it joined the league as an expansion team, and was twice the team's captain.

I know, the Wild rotates captains month-to-month and never has had a permanent captain. But he was a captain and that officially makes it five players who were captains instead of four.

Recchi's last skate

Mark Recchi

was claimed off re-entry waivers by the Atlanta Thrashers and is scheduled to report to practice tomorrow. This will be Recchi's fifth NHL team and probably his last; he was waived by the Penguins last week.

Recchi, 39, has two goals and six assists in 19 games this season. In 18-plus years in the NHL, he has 510 goals and 831 assists and played with the Flyers twice, Pittsburgh twice, Montreal and Carolina, winning the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 1991 and Hurricanes in 2006. *

Send e-mail to morane@phillynews.com